Six Lesser-Known Flexible Wellness Spending Account Options for Your Employees

As an employer, do you provide a truly flexible wellness and health benefit as a perk of employment? Perhaps you activated a fully flexible health spending (HSA) and a wellness spending (WSA) account? While HSAs have CRA-regulated list of health related spend buckets, a WSA is structured to promote a much more flexible wellness expense array of lifestyle options for your employees. 

You don’t have to force your employees to solely use traditional health practitioners to use their allocated health and wellness benefits. By providing a flexible WSA, you free your employees to seek out alternative health solutions as unique as they are. They may seek out athletic expenses, hydrotherapy, approved vitamins/supplements or even professional development expenses. They can exercise their options to choose the expenses that are right uniquely to them.  

Adding a WSA to an HSA or to a traditional benefits plan is a small investment for an employer with a huge return. Employees turn into recruitment and goodwill ambassadors for your company. They effortlessly can’t wait to tell their family and friends what a great company culture your company has and that they are not only happy to work there but encourage others to do the same. 

Flexible wellness options

Providing flexible wellness options to your employees not only tells them how much you appreciate them – it shows them. It shows them you care not just about their time at work but their non-work time and lifestyle too. “Mr. or Mrs. Employee, we like you and want to ensure your wellness needs are looked after. We’re in this together – at work and everywhere else.” A WSA helps the dialogue of making your employees feel they are respected, they are important and they are valued.  

Back in March 2021, we wrote about the top 5 most common health spending account (HSA) expenses employees use their HSA for. HSAs provides a non-taxable alternative or supplementation to a traditional benefits plan. Those top-5 include such CRA-approved tax-free benefits such as  

  1. Massage and Physiotherapy 
  1. Vision-Related Expenses 
  1. Dental Expenses 
  1. Health Insurance Fees 
  1. Prescription Drugs. 

Click here for a more comprehensive list of CRA-approved HSA expenses. 

Conversely, a flexible wellness WSA can be set up to include vastly different expenses for wellness-related activities and services tailored to you. It’s important to differentiate that unlike HSAs, a WSA is a taxable benefit and is considered part of an employee’s total compensation package. WSA contributions are flexible wellness benefits. Choose the WSA options that make sense for your business. The dollar amount will need to be included on an employee’s T4 statement as a taxable benefit. Common WSA expenses often touted as employee benefits include gym memberships, fitness equipment and Zumba classes amongst others.

Below are six lesser known WSA expenses you as an employer CAN include for your employees: 

Music equipment 

Believe it or not, musical instruments, as a source of mental health therapy can be one of the buckets you can include as choice for your employees.  There is no replacement for exercising regularly and eating well to maintain your health and wellness. However, playing instruments in a group setting or individually has benefits not only for physical health, but also mental, emotional, and social wellbeing. 
[Contact the CRA for more information on taxable expenses.] 

Smoking cessation program 

Many smokers and other tobacco users know they should quit. But how to do it? Did you know you your WSA can be used by employees to assist them cease their nicotine addiction. Counselling, gums, medicines, etc. can all be purchased with employee allocated WSA funds. An employee can also use these funds to cover expenses surrounding the creation of a quit-smoking plan. Having a plan helps set expectations, line up the support needed, learn coping skills, and stay motivated. 
[Contact the CRA for more information on taxable expenses.] 

Certified instruction for a physical activity (for the employee or employee dependents) 

WSA funds can be used for facility rental fees. In addition, certified instruction such as personal training, swim lessons, Canskate program, etc. can also be a category for your employees’ allocated funds.
[Contact the CRA for more information on taxable expenses.] 

Alternative or holistic health services 

Instead of forcing your employees to seek wellness solutions from traditional practitioners, a WSA can provide the flexible wellness freedom to use alternative options such as acupuncture, meditation counselling and education costs, holistic medicines, natural supplements and so much more.
[Contact the CRA for more information on taxable expenses.] 

Childcare / family care 

Childcare fees for services provided by someone other than a direct family member, such as day home care, nannies, or after-school care programs can all be included in an employees’ flexible wellness WSA account. Medical and/or non-medical expenses related to the care of a dependent child, spouse or parent can also be a possible use for a WSA. These could include such items as walkers, respite services, day programs and more.
[Contact the CRA for more information on taxable expenses.] 

Work-related seminars 

Employees can use their WSA to cover expenses related to pursue professional development through continuing education. This expense can include eligible dependent’s expenses in this category as well. Types of expenses that might be considered include courses, seminars, conferences or classes provided by an accredited educational institution and related to professional development. Books or texts required for a course, seminar, conference or class can also be reimbursed.
[Contact the CRA for more information on taxable expenses.] 

Your Health and Wellness Insights 

At the end of the day, you providing a WSA to your employees encourages them to maintain healthy and active lifestyles. This benefits their health and happiness. It benefits your morale and engagement at work as well. You as their employer decide what taxable benefits the employee can make claims on. Choose a small list of items for reimbursement or an exhaustive list of wellness items. The more variety, the more options for your employees and their unique wants and needs. 

The best part about a WSA? The CRA does not govern them! You provide them with the wellness flexibility to cover their expenses on everything from a tuba to pet insurance. From gym/fitness fees, to alternative holistic services, and more. The expenses you choose to cover with your employees’ WSA become a reflection their values. Because it was you that facilitated their uniqueness through the flexible wellness plan you provided, their values get embedded in your business’ value set as well. Nice perk back to you and business.  

We believe healthcare is stressful enough. Paying for it shouldn’t be. If you’re curious how to leverage a WSA into your flexible wellness and health plan, contact us today